Thursday night alexx_kay
and I went to a production of "The Winter's Tale" at MIT put on by students of
THE Cambridge University American Stage Tour (CAST)http://castonline.org/
and while initially I had my doubts about how enjoyable it would be due to the various ambiguities of the play itself along with the fact that it was a
student production, I can definitively state that this was an amazing production that demonstrated once again that these plays were meant to be experienced
live, not just read.
Indeed, one of the aspects of CAST's production which made the play so much livelier than I expected was that the company exploited every possible moment
for making the play come alive to the audience.
While it didn't occur to me at the time, this sense of liveliness was kicked off when we bumped into eanja
before the show and then when we took our seats found ourselves sitting in front of xiphias
, maintainers of the wonderful bard_in_boston
, virtual home of all things Shakespeare in the Boston area.
The play itself is, as I commented, a bit ambiguous in its categorization: while the theme itself is very dark--jealousy and the destruction it enacts not
only upon individuals but upon families and social order--the play is often listed as a comedy, because nobody actually dies (thanks, Fabrisse). According
to Marjorie Garber's book _Shakespeare After All_, Winter's Tale can be categorized as one of the late romances, along with Tempest and Midsummer's Night,
and also as one of the triad of "jealousy plays" which include Much Ado and Othello. The players made a creative choice to highlight the comedic parts
of the play while not downplaying the darker elements, the two main means for doing this being the use of puppets and the use of character/costuming references
to Lewis Carroll's _Alice in Wonderland_.
Yet the use of children's toys and stories did not detract from the dark theme of jealousy and violence. As anyone who knows about the secret history of
Punch and Judy can tell you, violence is woven through the oldest puppet plays. And as for stories, a winter's tale is a story told during the darkest
part of the year.
The "winter's tale" of this play's title is both literal and proverbial. The phrase meant something like "fairy tale," or a diverting entertainment, largely
for the amusement of women, children, and the old. A mid-sixteenth-century author wrote of "old wives fables and winter tales" (John Olde, Walther's Antichrist,
translation 1556) as if they were versions of the same, and Lady Macbeth belittles her husband's lack of resolution by observing scornfully that "these
flaws and starts, / ... would well become / A woman's story at a winter fire" (3.4.62-64). The teller of the winter's tale within The Winter's Tale is
the boy Mamillius, the ill-fated young Prince. His mother, Hermione, urges him to tell a merry tale, but he replies..."A sad tale's best for winter. I
have one / Of sprites and goblins" (2.1.27-28). Most of the tale is whispered into his mother's ear, but it begins, significantly, "There was a man- /
Dwelt by a churchyard." So, we may say, all men and women-do, living their lives in the neighborhood of death. And if stories and sad tales distance the
imminence of death, if fiction removes the constant and direct fear of mortality, still we might remember that it is Mamillius, the teller of the winter's
tale, who is the first to die. "If the King had no son"-the hypothetical prophecy comes unexpectedly true, and the world of Sicilia is not prepared to
So a winter's tale is a scarey story told during the dying part of the year, making Winter's Tale a seasonal story of dying and birth, with its promise
of transformation (which makes the use of the rabbit/hare from Alice in Wonderland a very elegant use of spring imagery). )For more about winter's tales,
you can read a post titled
"Tales for November"http://kestrell.livejournal.com/268106.html
part of my "13 Days of Halloween" for last year; the post includes some discussion of winter's tales in A. S. Byatt's novel _Possession_.)
Winter's Tale includes a number of very creepy images. Aside from the image of the man living by the churchyard, there is Leontes's famous speech about
"the spider in the cup" which has poisoned him and all he sees. And there is a lovely gruesome description given by a young man who has just seen a man
torn apart by a bear, a speech given with particular relish, as it were, by the Hare in this production.
I would say the real hit of the evening, however, was the clown/trickster, Autolycus, who's roghish charm reminded me of the Michael Caine character in
"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"--at one point, Autolycus literally steals the pants off of someone he is talking to--while his musical numbers, where he prowled
the stage and sang ballads in a menacing sort of way, reminded me of Richard Thompson. At one point, the actor Autolycus stopped singing and addressed
the audience to mention that he accepted contributions. As the audience laughed, he said, "No, really, I'm not going on until I get some money," much to
the delight of his audience. I wish the program had listed the names of the actors, because I would definitely be interested in seeing what else this actor
does in the future. His part really pulled the play together, and I was intrigued enough by the character to see what Marjorie Garber had to say about
Autolycus is the play's resident artist and genius loci, spirit of place. His name reveals his link with the classical trickster Autolycus, one of the master
thieves of Greek tradition, and a son of the quicksilver god Hermes, or Mercury.
So there it is, my review of a play which I enjoyed immensely despite having no expectations when I went to see it. If you are in the NYC, Frostburg, MD,
or Washington DC areas, you still have a chance to go see this wonderful production. Go, have fun, and don't forget to bring change.